The Two Marielas
The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello
Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 14 February 2017 – The
story I want to relate has two parts, one is true and the other is
fiction. The real one is an event I was involved in at the Carlos III
market while in line to buy yogurt, one of the products in shortest
supply in this country – despite the fact that it is sold in hard
currency – and in this case with a price of 0.70 Cuban convertible pesos
(CUC), although there are other yogurts sold in different containers for
as much as 5 CUC (1 CUC is roughly equal to $1 US).
In front of me, while we were waiting, was a young woman of around 30
something, but I could see she’d had a pretty rough life. She had the
money in her hand, some of it in 5 and 10 centavo coins in CUC and a
note for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) – because, as you know, now the stores have
to accept both currencies. All of a sudden she dropped a 10 centavo coin
and to her great misfortune it rolled under one of the display cases and
although the woman made a great effort to retrieve it, she could not.
She turned to leave the line and I asked, “Are you leaving?” and she
said, “Yes, I had the exact amount of money and I dropped 10 centavos
under that case.” Without thinking twice I said, “No, don’t leave, take
the ten centavos.”
She accepted with the happiest look on her face and told me, “You have
no idea how grateful I am, because my older daughter is sick and she
doesn’t want to eat anything.”
From that moment, with the facility a Cuban has to establish
communication with another person, even if they don’t know them, we
spent the next thirty minutes while we continued to wait in line talking
to each other.
She explained that she worked as a teaching assistant at an elementary
school, but often had to be the teacher because there aren’t enough
educators. She is divorced and the monthly support she receives from the
children’s father is 50 Cuban pesos (roughly $2 US). That plus her own
salary is not enough to live on and she has to “invent” and go begging
to her mother. She told me, literally, “You have no idea what I have to
do to be able to feed my kids.”
Like any good Cuban, she lives in a building considered uninhabitable,
but she won’t accept going to a shelter because she knows other people
who live in those conditions and it is dangerous for the girls, now that
they are becoming young ladies. Because her apartment is on the second
floor and nothing works, she has no running water and every other day
has to carry up 10 or 12 buckets of water to meet highest priority
needs, although she says she is grateful to her mother who washes and
irons the girls school uniforms.
“Imagine. My mother was a member of the Party (Communist) and worked in
the Federation of Cuban Women and as for my my father, may he rest in
peace, his surname was Castro, so it occurred to her to name me Mariela
[after Raul Castro’s daughter]. Now she regrets it.”
Then she said that she did not listen to her mother and married a man
who drank a lot, and when he came home he beat her. It took a lot of
work to get out of that torture and now she regrets not having listened
to her mother’s advice.
He left them that disastrous apartment where they live in Centro Habana,
and now she is stuck because her sister is married and has two children
and also lives in the divided living room, which doubles as a room for
both her and her sister’s families in the home of their parents.
She confessed to me that she had been so distressed that she takes her
daughters and walks along the Malecon. And she said the girls understand
the whole situation and do not ask for anything. But they’re growing up
and they have to have shoes and school uniforms and something to eat for
a snack at school, which is almost always a piece of bread, because at
breakfast they eat half of her daily quota (on the ration book).
I think she had a great need for someone to listen to all her problems
and saw the opportunity to vent.
With a little imagination, while I was on my way to my house, I began to
think about how the other Mariela might live, the one her mother named
At the entrance, everyone can see that other Mariela’s super residence
in the Miramar neighborhood even has a pool, always filled with water.
There are several cars and they and the house are all beautifully
maintained. This is something that you don’t have to imagine, and it is
But surely that Mariela Castro does not line up to buy yogurt at 70
cents CUC and much less would she be sad if she dropped a coin, as all
her food problems are taken care of without her even having to leave the
When she gets up for breakfast she does not “donate” her bread to the
children. A maid prepares the food, certainly with ham, milk, bread,
juices, etc. She is assured of coffee every day, very likely imported,
she probably gets the most desirable brands brought in from Miami.
She doesn’t have to worry about what time the bus will come to take her
to work; in the first place because she doesn’t have to mark a timecard
and in the second because she has a modern car to take her to work
without having to get all sweaty and push her way onto the bus with all
the other people.
I could continue imagining things that we all know are part of the
standard of living of the high government hierarchy, but I leave it to
the reader so we can all share in this fictional (?) part of the story.
Source: The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello –
Translating Cuba –